Letter From Upcountry Quebec

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Tom says Spring here happens in a single day. He says it all comes at a bound. April is worst, after snow thaws and there’s only cold mud as far as you’d care to look and the trees are ugly too. But then you see grass, in a thin meek nap, and then everything everything bounding out blossoms and blooms he is smiling. But Fall Tom says, Fall is lingering.

Everything — nature reality Kosmos — everything is sacred, the Unitarian minister says. He says all religions and terms for Gods are metaphors we make out of the world we live in and we do this because we feel that it is holy. Nature gives us this sensation of the knowledge of holy. Ninety per cent, ninety per cent of communities that develop horticulture form theologies of Earth Goddesses to envision somehow what is happening with nature and growth. Ninety-three per cent upon discovery of mathematics and ploughs move to versions of a male God who is strong and commands the earth. What we are now he says is the universe after thirteen point seven billion years contemplating itself. The sciences are atoms of hydrogen gas which expanded and imploded and complexified and expanded and have now come to thinking about their own behaviour. He makes an analogy. Cancer is cells which have lost their ability to read their DNA and without this understanding of their own genetic history do terrrible things. We, as we forget our own scientific and evolutionary history and the whole thirteen point seven billion years of super novas and black holes and the concourse of stardust falling into life, we mutate against our makeup. God Yahweh Shiva Allah whatever you call it reality — nature — the matter, of which we are made up, and the way in which it behaves, forming rosebushes and rolling oceans from infinite vasts of debris, this is the big miracle: our world.

Pat says she didn’t like the visiting minister’s sermon. She says him bounding about with that fine voice of his and theatrical style made her feel she was being manipulated. All that emotionality, all that stirring. Pat plays the piano in the Unitarian Universalist Church of North Hatley where the visiting minister had come to visit. She plays brokenly with handknots of rheumatoid arthritis. But his message was one with which all Unitarians could agree says Tom. Not all says Pat: here’s one that doesn’t, and she raises a glass of Tequila to herself, and tips.

Jon says Pat has been an alcoholic for as many years as the falling stardust gave him eyes to see, and probably long before that too. She is never drunk her house is immaculate and her husband loves her dearly. She just happens to be sipping Tequila. Jon says he misses his siblings. I miss my siblings, he says, I like my cousins but I miss my siblings — Canadian Thanksgiving isn’t the same without them. When he was younger Jon and his siblings would come up here to camp in the woods in summer, and then when he was older with friends and girlfriends and the woodlands of his childhood were suffused with romance. Did you come up here with Anna I ask. Many times he says, and smiles, and misses his childhood more, so he looks at his drink.

There is a lull in conversation around our group and Ania walks by and laughs wickedly and walks on. Ania has become quite plump says Tom. She was always going to says Pat, you’d see her as a child and always something to eat in her hand. Yes she has been eating says Jack. Rubenesque! I say. Ooh he did like his women round and rolly says Tom with big boobs and — but Ania has small boobs says Pat. She has small boobs like me but with a plump belly like her mother. Who are they talking about? asks Amanda. Their granddaughter says Jon. And big bums says Margery he liked them with big bums. I like Ania she is wicked.

The others here are not wicked. They are mild as the maple leaves. Tom’s sons are all honest tradesmen: a carpenter a baker a cook and so on right down to the seventh, Colin, who became a lawyer. He is now thinking of moving into politics. Colin Byrd — you can watch for that name in the Montreal Mirror. He has a lovely benign intelligence a terible tempatation to do good. Tom tells a story about taking his children sledding and how on this long old run they were all bumping down and wiping out everywhere save for Colin who was small and light enough to hold course. But his face, oh he was so serious and when he got to the bottom he’d turn around and go right back up. This summer when Tom and Pat went up to Newfoundland, their sons Colin and Nils rebuilt the shed for them, and they threw out everything except Colin’s sled. I wish they hadn’t thrown out so much says Pat. But it was his sled says Tom.

Harry is the carpenter. While Colin and Nils were raising stardust from the shed he built the addition we are all sitting in. Earlier he had built the bridge over the beaver dam and the little road beyond and the house at its end and a shop for his tools and a well for his water. It is the best well in the area with 4000 gallons an hour and ice-cold all summer long. I should really bottle some he says, and maybe he should. There is a new man on the neighbouring property who was after building a well, and so he dowsed and picked a spot and logged a path and dowsed again but the second time he got no response. That was when he came over to see Harry — he wanted to test his dowsing rods. So they went to the line on the road where it crinkles because, Harry thinks, there is an underground water-vein which freezes in winter and buckles the asphalt. They got a strong signal. And then they went up to where Harry has his well and within five feet the thing was twitching and by two it almost wrestled itself out of his hands. The instrument consists of two metal rods the length and weight of knitting needles which are crossed and bound together with a piece of wire. Then you hold it splayed out and sprung with the tension on your forearms and you go near Harry’s well and it will start shocking and writhing until you either back off or have it snap across your face. Yahweh Yahweh wonder of the stardust sway. Traditionally you use a fork of green wood. The new man decided to drill anyway as he had logged his path and hired his man and went on through three hundred dry feet of rock before giving up. He is now proud possessor of an eight thousand dollar hole.

Harry tells me about springs in the lake behind the beaver dam. He asks me if I have swum there, which I have, and if I’d noticed sudden stems of witch-cold water, which I had. Those are the springs he says. One time when the lake froze over you could see by the specific bossellated knolls of ice where the springs come up and sculpt a freeze-pattern. I wish I’d drawn it out on graph paper Harry says, and then in summer I could plot a swim route through the warmer stills.

I swim in the lake again today. Yesterday I boated out to the tethered raft in the middle and spent the afternoon prone. Cerulean sky above and the trees fingered by autumn. The water-surface is so sheet I can count their leaves in it, then send welts across with my oar and watch all holy reality wobble and break. There is a chronically empty beauty to this landscape. There are amusing and pleasant ways to become seventy-three, so long as you’re drinking Tequila. Last night I go for a walk in the full moon clean sky din of silence and it is brighter than my mind. I walk along a logging path to its cliff’s edge and stand and in all that humpbacked vault of land and there isn’t one human light. Just trees, rigdes dying into mist and a slate of incandescent water. So I throw a rock and hear the splash come then go. Today I swim in the lake again and determine to swim across it even though I can feel it is too cold and far and it is a conscious thing to make my body set out. By half way I can feel the strokes shortening and as I come into one of the dark resting springs the strength rips away from my body. Literally rips. I am swimming but my head starts to go under between strokes; it ceases to come up for long enough to clear my eyes, and my lungs are taking in water. I am sinking among the tips of upsidedown trees. I turn onto my back and sculling acquire what I think may be another minute. I watch the sky and think two things only: embarassment towards Tom and his family that I may drown in his lake, and the serenely nonmarvellous act of a naked man disappearing into cold water. I count, and watch, and on forty-seven feel pondweed brush against my leg. I turn and stand. I am horrifically exhausted. When I arrive among the bullrushes I have no sensation in my feet — I walk round to my clothes as though upon wooden stumps with a remote cognisance of indeterminable pain. When I arrive and dress I try to light a cigarette but find that my hands are shaking too much and put out the match. In two hours time I will recognise a discomfort and taking off my shoe will prize a small rock from my foot, from the crease between ball and flat. I lever it out with my fingernail, then feel the inside of the hole, and its crenellated edge. By now I have started the drive back to New York City — I am in a service station. I feel heavy, and waterlogged, and empty.

Musa says I have a death-wish. Musa says I have this terrible death-wish and that is why I cannot care properly about my relationships with other people; herself included no doubt. What with the bicycle accident and the stilts accident and the cross-country ski-ing incident and the time I almost drowned in Brighton I suppose she has a point. What can you do though you just keep on repeating yourself until there’s no Tequila left and it’s morning anyway. The mininster says it’s all that stardust falling makes us feeling so holy. Tom says he lights candles every Thanksgiving Sunday, because his house is full and he loves his family. I put on my shoe. And Billie Holiday sings; she sings I hate to see the evening sun go down …